Writing a Meeting Agenda

An agenda is an important part of any large meeting running smoothly. When dealing with multiple speakers or parties on a conference call, assigning specific time increments to each speaker or Q&A session will keep everyone on track.

When I think of something that needs an agenda, I think of a large event that has multiple speakers and subject matters. An agenda, in my opinion, is to let me know who's speaking, how long they will have the floor, and give the main idea of what information they are going to present.

What makes an effective agenda?

Pick a type of agenda. Did you know there is more than one kind of agenda? I didn't until I started doing research for this post. The most popular agenda is called a "common agenda". This kind of agenda will call the meeting to order, offering a reading of the agenda, and then call for business matters to begin. The second most popular is a "priority agenda". This agenda places items of business in order of importance so that the highest priority items are sure to be addressed. Those are just two of the most popular ones, but there are a lot of different ways to arrange an agenda.

How detailed will your agenda need to be? First, consider if your agenda is going to be sent to just speakers or if all attendees will get a copy. You also need to decide just how deeply you will break out the agenda. Do you need to list every speaker or subject matter? A good rule is to break out the agenda when you will have two (or more) speakers and / or two (or more) subject matters. If you’re doing a town hall type of conference where multiple speakers will weigh in on one topic, listing the speakers should be sufficient.

Have someone else look at it. Get a second pair of eyes on the agenda to make sure you didn't leave anything out or get your timezones mixed up. Since you’ll be sending out your agenda with your invitation (right?) you don’t want to have to update this document multiple times. Limit changes as much as you can, and letting a second person read over it will help.

Like most things when it comes to having successful conference and webinar events, the amount of time you spend planning will have a great effect on how attendees respond before, during, and after your conference is over.

5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable

Were you told to set up a conference call today? Did you groan, roll your eyes, or curl up in the fetal position on the floor? That’s a shame – meetings aren’t bad, it is the way that we think they should be conducted that are.

Here are six myths about meetings that mean participants will be bored and as the presenter, you can’t wait for it to be over with a tip to bust the myth and get your participants engaged.

  1. The more people that attend the better your meeting will be.
  2. Wrong. If you’re putting a meeting together to follow up with a development project, you may not need to invite the sales department. The Modern Meeting Standard suggests asking if the presence of one person would dramatically shift a decision making vote. If yes, they need to attend, if no, then they can probably skip this one. (Al Pittampalli put together a great book and you can check out a more in depth interview with him in our April Newsletter)

  3. Everyone is paying attention.
  4. A lot of presenters think that once they send out the invitation and conference call information that their work is done. The truth is that it takes a lot of work to keep participants engaged during the conference call. Many participants just put their phone on mute so that the rest of the conference doesn’t hear them working or playing games on their phone. Things like Q&A sessions, polling, or even getting interactive on social networks during your presentation are great ways to keep participants engaged.

  5. Reading from slides is the same thing as “making a presentation”.
  6. No. The golden rule of presentation is never read from your slides. Slides are a guide to prevent the speaker from losing their place and to visually stimulate your participants along the way. Instead of filling slide after slide with bullet points, use images and short statements to clue the participants into the information, but if you give it away on the slides – they will tune you out.

  7. Your agenda is a script.
  8. Much like the slides in Myth #3, the use of an agenda is sometimes distorted into being used as a script for the meeting. The agenda should be more of a guide to let participants know how the conference call time is going to be spent. For example, an agenda might say that from 9:00 – 9:30 will be Introduction, 9:30 – 10:30 Speaker, 10:30-11:00 Q&A. A meeting agenda works best when used as a short check list of how presenters plan on the time being used.

  9. Meetings that are blocked out for an hour must fill the whole hour.
  10. Don't fill time for the sake of taking up the entire hour. If you wrap up early or get through questions quicker than anticipated, go ahead and close out the conference. People will appreciate your effectiveness and be glad they have some extra time where they can get some other things taken care of. Nothing kills a meeting faster than when your participants feel like you're wasting their time.

Part of the thing that makes meetings and conferences a bit of a drag is the way the meeting is viewed. If we start small, dispelling some myths, and move on from there we are guaranteed to have more productive meetings and happy co-workers.

The 23 Minute Conference Rule

A UK study reveals that the average attention span on a conference call is 23 minutes. After 23 minutes on a conference call, the participants on your call start to tune out and do other things. This is the part where they start checking their email, sending text messages, or playing Angry Birds. In fact, some people in the study admitted to falling asleep all together. When it comes to a face to face meeting, the attention span is increased to 35 minutes.

Whether you use conference calling services to have meetings, or you are still doing things in the traditional face to face way, this study is important to you and if you take nothing else away you should take away this – you have to get to the point. Here are three quick tips that you can apply to your next meeting so that you can say what you need to say while most people are going to be paying attention.

  1. Keep it short and sweet. A long drawn out introduction is only going to eat into the time that you have to keep everyone’s full attention. Instead of planning on a long introduction about the conference topic, send out an agenda ahead of time so that everyone already has a heads up. This way you can get right into the content.
  2. Use less time than you need. According to the study you have 23 minutes to say everything you need to say. When it comes time to actually plan out your conference, give yourself a little less time than what you actually have. This way, if you run over, you won’t be extending the time too much. It’s always better to end a little early, rather than ending very late.
  3. Wandering minds will wander. No matter what you do to keep the attention of the group, there will still be people who are going to tune you out. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do about the Angry Bird addicts. Reach who you can because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to make a point to those who aren’t paying attention.

When you only have 20-30 minutes to make an impression that is going to stay in someone’s mind, you have to do what you can with the time allowed. Send out an agenda, plan for less time than you have, and remember that those who are going to be distracted will do so – and there is little you can do about it. What are you doing to stay within in the 23 minute time limit on your conference calls?